People Don't Change Jobs, They Change Leaders

For SMEs including franchisees, the impacts of ineffective leadership and high turnover have significant and ongoing impacts to productivity and growth — which can be avoided, and it’s easier than you may think.

We’re not just talking about the need for a positive culture and bringing the best out in people. We’re talking about vital aspects of leadership often overlooked, especially in SMEs.

And with a career spanning two decades’ in leadership roles at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) before dedicating my life to consulting and writing about leadership best practice, it’s fair to say I’ve seen plenty of leadership blunders… Leadership is not always seen as a priority in SMEs yet it should be. Small team environments mean people are closer to each other, which demands stronger relationships. Leadership is entirely dependent upon relationships and in small team environments, things can go pear shaped fast.

Many people think they’re good leaders (or that they’re just ‘so misunderstood!’) yet their staff turnover is high, productivity is low, people struggle to support and implement strategies, teams are segregated and input is withheld — all of which leads to unproductive cultural habits.

When our habits are damaging relationships, people will form their own unproductive habits to survive us. This stifles innovation, productivity and commitment. SMEs don’t have the capacity to absorb cultural issues like larger corporations do. They tend to move faster with the impact on operations and overall productivity being more significant.

But alas, the solution is right under your nose. To change habits, you must change what people think. To do this, you must be conscious of what you are thinking, because what you think determines what actions you take, and those actions will influence what others think.

In short, if you’re still saying ‘do as I say and not as I do’, it’s time for a re-think. And to pivot away from this approach, here’s the smoking gun for truly effective leadership I adopted from my experience in the RAAF. 

I’ve created The 15 Disciplines® of Ethical Leadership that focuses on developing disciplined thoughts that result in disciplined actions. Each discipline has a checklist, which if you refer to frequently, your actions will develop into highly productive leadership habits.

And yes, I did just say the C word: ‘checklist’. And I assure you aren’t just another ol’ group of checklists! They simplify the process of performing complex responsibilities by supporting the development of disciplined practice and behaviours and minimising the possibility of human error.

The result is consistently productive habits and reliably better outcomes.

By having a set of checklists, you can consciously reflect on your leadership behaviours. Just like checklists in aviation, I believe there are disciplines people can implement that lead to highly productive leadership habits.

In my latest book Ethics Trump Power, I expand on my original book The 15 Disciplines® – The Essential Checklist for Productive Leaders. I teach leadership through personal storytelling, touching upon important moments in my childhood, my time as a leader in the Royal Australian Air Force, and today, as a leadership consultant.

A common issue I see arise is that people think they know what discipline is, but they don’t really. It’s important for people to understand what it is, why it matters, and how each of The 15 Disciplines® of Ethical Leadership work together to make a great leader. It’s important to understand why ethics ultimately trumps power, and leaders can consistently align their own work and leadership with that truth.

I see many small business leaders overfocused on the task at hand, which comes at the expense of relationships. This impacts on people’s quality of life. Furthermore, they expect too much tolerance and forgiveness of their bad leadership practices. The great SME leaders are those who take a well-rounded approach to leadership by embracing all 15 Disciplines®, not just a few.

So, what are The 15 Disciplines® of Ethical Leadership?

The 15 Disciplines® of Ethical Leadership is a framework designed to build and mobilise a strong ethics based approach to leadership that results in highly productive outcomes. It starts by leading self before leading others. Imagine for a moment, the feeling of humiliation, rejection, failure, exclusion, disgrace, shame or belittlement.

For leaders this can be experienced from a silent reflection of an underperforming balance sheet to an out right conflict with a client or employee. The single greatest challenge for many leaders is in recognising and acknowledging the emotional rush associated with these feelings and responding productively rather than reacting unproductively. This is the distinct difference between a great leader and an average leader.

Leadership is complex. To be consistent, one needs to be disciplined. Disciplined leaders when faced with these feelings, always reflect and ask themselves, ‘What does the situation require of me?’ The answer is rarely easy, but it is most often correct and will require courage and humility to respond. Consistent reflection using checklists helps to simplify the process of performing complex responsibilities and enables ethical outcomes to be achieved without the need for power or punishment.

Key Takeaways:

  • Checklists simplify the process of performing complex responsibilities be enabling controlled thought and action minimising the possibility for unproductive reactions;
  • Productive leaders develop the self-discipline to use leadership checklists to reflect on their own practise and behaviour;
  • Reflecting on The 15 Disciplines® of Ethical Leadership enables consistently productive habits within a strong ethical setting, and reliably better outcomes;
  • Specific disciplines allow people to adopt highly productive leadership habits across all areas of leadership; and
  • All disciplines however rely on you first mastering Discipline 1 – Be Your Best Self.

Stephen Scott is a leadership author and speaker with extensive military and corporate leadership experience. He is enabling leaders across a multitude of sectors, to build and mobilise a strong ethics-based philosophy for life and leadership. His latest book Ethics Trump Power, provides a coherent, easy to understand set of fifteen disciplines that activate reflective thought, consideration of the way we engage with others and challenges the internal messaging we send ourselves. This book is not a checklist of procedures. It’s not a management guide or a rulebook. Instead, this book starts at the core: it’s more about the leader than it is about leadership itself, because ultimately, leadership is the behaviour and practice of a leader.